I’ve always loved bags. I remember scheming and saving back in my high school and college days for that next perfect bag. Backpacks, Messenger Bags, Duffels… It never ends.
I love bags that are completely unstructured with no implied purpose and those that are incredibly focused and esoteric. There are times when I want a bag that only holds a single camera, an attached lens, and an extra battery. The next day, I want every piece of photo gear I own along for the ride. Later that night, I might need something that holds my laptop too.
As I was planning a recent trip, I decided I wanted a carry-on that could fit all my camera gear, my 13″ Macbook Pro Retina, a Kindle Paperwhite, and all the other stuff you might want on a six hour flight. My kit for this trip:
- Sony A7
- Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8
- Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8
- Hasselblad 500CM with the Zeiss 80mm, f/2.8
- GoPro and a whole mess of attachments
- 2 Olympus OM lenses and an adaptor
I already have a messenger bag that could accommodate all this stuff, but not cleanly. I want a dedicated, padded spot for each piece of gear. Time for something more specialized.
The Thinktank Urban Approach is designed and marketed around the size of modern mirrorless camera systems, but the configuration is really flexible. It’s essentially a big open bag, with a bunch of well thought-out dividers you can move around or remove to suit your needs. Next to your back is a separate compartment for laptops and tablets that runs the entire length of the bag.
Think Tank sends it out configured for a two traditional camera body setup: one on top, and one on the bottom with a few little divided areas on each side for accessories. When mine arrived, I promptly took out the entire bottom section as I only carry one of this type of camera and really like the idea of more open space.
I put my Sony A7 on top, with batteries, extra lenses, the GoPro, and film on each side. I divided the bottom section in half. The Hasselblad goes on one half with an 80mm lens attached. This leaves the other half of the bottom for snacks, a light jacket, compact tripod, and any other accessory.
In terms of fit, there’s not much you can’t see from the photos. You can fit an iPhone 6 in the front pocket, but not lengthwise. Larger phones like the iPhone 6 Plus will not fit. The outside side pockets are stretchy and just barely fit a standard 27oz. Klean Kanteen.
One side has a dedicated strap for securing a tripod using the stretchy pocket to hold one or two of the tripod legs. The laptop compartment fits my MacBook and I can even fit a wound charger with its long cable at the bottom. I don’t know if it would fit a 17″ laptop, but my wife’s older 15″ MacBook pro fits in there just fine.
Like all Think Tank bags I’ve ever seen, the build quality is superb. The zippers, pulls, handles, straps, and fabric are really thick, tough, and sturdy. It’s pretty light weight for the size and feels really good on my back. The body is fairly rigid with adequate padding to protect everything pretty well.
Think Tank uses heavy duty YKK RC Fuse zippers on this bag, and they feel incredibly sturdy. Even when I’ve had this bag stuffed completely full, it doesn’t feel like there’s any chance that these zippers would give out. They are nearly identical to the zippers on my camping backpack which takes a lot of abuse year after year.
The straps are solid, thick, and well reinforced which you can see here in the photos. They also feel really well balanced and thought out. There are no loose ends to come unraveled and even though the straps are easy to pull, the hardware is sized appropriately and they don’t slip under a load. There’s an adjustable sternum strap with sliders so you can move it up and down depending on the wearer or the load.
There are three zippered pockets on this bag. When you open the big main zipper, you’ll notice two fine Hexamesh pockets on the back side of the flap. I’ve seen this material on many Think Tank bags and it’s really a great idea as the ultra tight weave leaves the contents of the pocket visible, but completely contained and secure. These pockets are flat, and work well for filters, SD cards, a cleaning cloth, or an old-school cable release. You can also fit a Field Notes notebook and a small pocket sized pen for recording exposure and location notes.
There’s one zippered pocket on the outside front. I was thinking it would be great for holding my phone, but it’s just a little too shallow to fit the way I prefer. I can fit my iPhone 6 sideways, but it’s a little tricky getting it in and out. I end up putting some earbuds, a small notebook, and pen in there most of the time. It’s a shame they didn’t make it longer.
Some bags are soft and easily collapsible. This isn’t one of them. The outside walls have a fairly rigid construction, which means the size of the bag is always roughly the same. With some of my smaller bags, I find collapsibility to be useful. With this one, I really value the rigidity for ease of packing and the fact that it stands up on its own. If I were going to try to equate this one with other styles, I’d say it has the rigidity and layout of a traditional carry-on photography bag, but in a more comfortable backpack layout.
One more really cool feature: on the back, there’s a handy strap that slips right over the handle of your roller bag. There’s a little velcro patch that keeps it in place when you aren’t using it and it isn’t noticeable when you have it on your back.
Weather Resistance and Durability
Think Tank uses a nice heavy-duty 1680D balistic nylon for the outer shells on their bags with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating. Living in Portland OR, I can tell you it’s pretty weather resistant as-is, but they also include a matching seam-sealed rain cover for those times when the liquid really starts coming down. I haven’t had this bag out in heavy rain, but I do own another Think Tank bag and have used the rain cover quite a bit. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do, keeping all moisture away from your precious electronic gear.
The fabric, seams, and full grain accent leather panels feel top notch. There are webbing straps on the sides made from nylon seatbelt material and the straps and back pad are a breathable air-mesh.
Uses and Value
The Urban Approach is pretty comfy in just about every situation, but has a sleek, urban, minimalist design sense. I have used it as a carry-on when traveling, as a day pack when hiking and as a daily all-in-one bag when out shooting.
There are a lot of hiking specific bags with every manner of attachments, straps and stabilization, but this bag is decidedly more minimalist and sleek, which I feel makes it more versatile.
Sometimes you’re paying a lot for luxury and sometimes you get a discount for cheap build quality. Neither of those are true here. Think Tank focuses on really high build quality, but keeps things tight and uses well considered top-notch technical fabrics and parts. That means the price of $169.75is pretty reasonable and you get a lot of value for your money.
There are many fancier bags, with more exotic materials, but I haven’t seen one that ticks this many boxes at anywhere near this price point. As I already confessed, I love camera bags. I have fancier bags, but most need to be cared for, conditioned, and kept out of the rain.
The Think Tank Urban Approach 15 is the opposite. It looks great, can take heavy wear, rain, and constantly changing situations like a champ.